Kenyan — Danish Permacultural Project: Vijana Wetu

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Vijana Wetu is a unique Cultural Cooperation Project between a youth group at Victoria Lake in Western Kenya and a group of enthusiasts in Denmark. The words are swahili and it means “Our Youth.” I met the founder of this group one day at a special event in a very special village.

A Unique Cultural Bond Between Kenya & Denmark

It was back in 2014 and I was visiting the small village of Friland in Denmark, which is built on organic and cradle-to-cradle principles. The residents had opened their houses for visitors to see the alternative building methods, and they served organic foods from their gardens. The village is a story all by itself, which I might get back to at another time.

So, while I was strolling through all these beautiful homes, my eye spotted a sign on a small stall — or rather, an old circus wagon — with the word “Kisumu” on it. I had lived close to a city in Kenya in 1986 by that name, and sure enough, you could purchase all kinds of goodies and support a group of young people in Kisumu Kenya. I told the lady who had the wagon placed in her back yard that I had lived in the area, and that I was soon going to visit a friend in Zambia, who had attended the school in Kisumu at the same time. The lady introduced herself as Tove Bang.

The very old circus wagon that functioned as “administration building” for Vijana Wetu. Image credit: Jesper Berggreen

Tove had visited the youth at Victoria Lake for the first time in 2011, which, among the things I will get to in a bit, also resulted in her writing a thesis in 2013 in anthropology, about how youth from this poor area believe they can use their talents to create livelihoods through artist activities.

Anyway, so there we were exchanging experiences from the beautiful area by the shores of Lake Victoria (the second largest freshwater lake in the world, about the size of Lake Superior), and we agreed to meet again when I got home from my trip to Zambia.

The members of Vijana Wetu in Kenya and Denmark are much inspired by Permaculture, and they established the Banda River Permaculture Demonstration Center near Victoria Lake. The Permaculture ethics and design principles are part of all their activities.

Vijana Wetu members gathered to do field work. Image credit: Vijana Wetu

Acting as chairman for the organization, Tove Bang and vice chairman Tonny Trifolikum met the youth in the village Asembo at Victoria Lake for the first time during winter 2011. Since then Tove and guests from Denmark have visited the group every year. All trips combined Tove have spent more than half a year in Kisumu and Asembo. It was the research among the Luo people in this area that resulted in her thesis in anthropology.

What Is Permaculture?

Simply put, permaculture combines 3 key aspects:

  1. An ethical framework
  2. Understandings of how nature works
  3. A design approach

This unique combination provides an ethical framework that is used to design regenerative systems at all scales – from home and garden to community, farm, and bioregions. Here’s great video explaining the core idea:

Vijana Wetu’s mission is to help provide local safe food supply, enable small business, and support people’s well-being in a poor area of Africa.

Permaculture is about living lightly on the planet, and making sure that it can sustain human activities for many generations to come, in harmony with nature.

An Important Joint Framework For Cooperation

Permaculture is giving both Vijana Wetu Kenya and Vijana Wetu Denmark an effective framework to work in. It’s a framework of 3 ethical principles and 12 work principles and it consists of the following:

Ethical principles:

  1. Care for the earth
  2. Care for people
  3. Fair share

Work principles:

  1. Observe & interact
  2. Catch & store energy
  3. Obtain a yield
  4. Apply self-regulation & accept feedback
  5. Use & and value renewable resources & services
  6. Produce no waste
  7. Design from patterns to details
  8. Integrate rather than segregate
  9. Use small & slow solutions
  10. Use & value diversity
  11. Use edges & and value the marginal
  12. Creatively use & respond to change

Tove elaborates:

“Through the permaculture ethics, the 12 principles and the design concept, we can define ourselves and each other, and find a joint direction for our cooperation in building up Banda River Permaculture Demonstration Center in the local area of Asembo at Viktoria Lake. Permaculture is a suitable model to create sustainability and to develop and restore poor or disaster affected communities.

“Permaculture provide cultivation methods, which by photosynthesis e.g. in food forest systems can catch carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store the carbon in trees and plants. When you keep the ground covered with green biomass, compost, and mulch the carbon will be stored in the soil, which should be left as undisturbed as possible, i.e. no digging or plowing.

“Permaculture farming methods builds a living soil, which means to create the right biotope for microorganisms, e.g. bacteria, fungus, worms and insects, which through their life patterns provide nutrients for the food production. The food often contains many more nutrients for humans than traditional agriculture. No pesticides or fertilizers are used.

“Together with diversity in food plant selection you can provide resistance and give solutions for problems caused by climate change, and people can benefit with a higher level of local food security.”

Nurse The Soil, Not The plant

Yes, it’s all about building the soil and not impoverishing it. No soil, no plant. Using artificial fertilizers is a dead end, literally. Luckily work is being done all over the world on designing and building self-sustaining ecosystems that focus on food production for local needs. One of the basic philosophies is the building of the soil and establishment of ecosystems according to design and functionality.

Tove continues:

“Diversity in production is a key concept. Permaculture systems give about 10 times higher yield than traditional agricultural production. When we look at nature and learn from it, we can imitate nature’s patterns and functionality and produce with annual and perennial plants, scrubs, climbers, and ground cover plants under nitrogen-fixing- and/or fruit- and edible trees. Diversity also provide good habitats for insects and birds, and they are helpful in regard to pests reduction.”

This is a serious matter, it’s about sustainable development, and it is about actual survival, for us and our planet. Tove has no doubt that permaculture is, to date, the best bid for future food production, because it builds ecosystems to be self-sustaining and food producing with very little work, once it is established.

Natural medicine workshop in Banda River Permaculture Project. Image credit: Vijana Wetu

Permaculture is one of the fastest growing global movements, thanks to organizations like Viana Wetu. Visit Vijana Wetu at

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Jesper Berggreen

Jesper had his perspective on the world expanded vastly after having attended primary school in rural Africa in the early 1980s. And while educated a computer programmer and laboratory technician, working with computers and lab-robots at the institute of forensic medicine in Aarhus, Denmark, he never forgets what life is like having nothing. Thus it became obvious for him that technological advancement is necessary for the prosperity of all humankind, sharing this one vessel we call planet earth. However, technology has to be smart, clean, sustainable, widely accessible, and democratic in order to change the world for the better. Writing about clean energy, electric transportation, energy poverty, and related issues, he gets the message through to anyone who wants to know better. Jesper is founder of and a long-term investor in Tesla, Ørsted, and Vestas.

Jesper Berggreen has 243 posts and counting. See all posts by Jesper Berggreen